Out of their gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see.
When I was about twenty-four year old, I encountered the film adaptation José Saramago’s novel, Blindness, and Advent returns my mind to Saramago’s gripping allegory. Blindness chronicles the harrowing story of a handful of characters who, along with citizens of their unidentified city, become stricken with an inexplicable, contagious blindness. As the condition spreads, an epidemic is declared and those afflicted by “the white sickness” are quarantined in a filthy, overcrowded asylum. When the protagonist’s husband, an ophthalmologist, contracts the condition, she joins him in captivity by lying to the authorities about her health: she can still see. Within the asylum, conditions deteriorate quickly. When food becomes scarce, an armed ward of the asylum seizes what rations remain and terrorizes the other wards with unspeakable cruelty. “The doctor’s wife” eventually frees the small band, only to discover the whole world stricken.
I will not spoil the story for you any further, but it invites meditations into the deeper textures of blindness. Of spiritual darkness in our lives and in our world, of illusions we all carry about God and God’s will, and a context where even the sighted among us cannot help or see the way out. While Saramago, an atheist, would doubtless disagree with my use of his narrative device in this way, I am sure he would nonetheless agree that his story of sightlessness confronts a kind of blindness that all of us experience at different times and in different magnitudes—no matter the condition of our physical eye.
Saramago’s novel ponders (whether he knows this or not) a blindness of the heart to the love and will of the Creator, but scripture address this sightlessness in a different way. It is a blindness that, when mistaken for sight (as so often it is), leads the soul away from God’s love; a sight content with the dark temptations of human pride, and a sight blind to God’s presence in creation, in our neighbor, and in ourselves.
Isaiah woefully yet acutely identifies this among his own people—among God’s own covenantal family. He likens it to a stupor, a drunkenness, an impairment of vision; he has closed your eyes, you prophets, and covered your heads, you seers. If God’s own people, refusing justice, mercy, and love, refuse to know God, God will consent to our withdrawal.
Yet, something different stirs here among the shadows, and the biblical vision departs radically from Saramago’s bleak outlook. Sighted by God to lead them out of darkness, Isaiah writes,
The Lord said: Because these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote; so I will again do amazing things with this people, shocking and amazing. The wisdom of their wise shall perish, and the discernment of the discerning shall be hidden.
Hidden yet in Mary, the divine love for humanity, shocking and amazing, seeks always to draw us back into the light and union we have refused. It knows we cannot know or see or comprehend what we have refused. And so Isaiah can say with anticipation Out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see, even as his own people sit in darkness. He sees his people’s sightlessness as a prelude to the fresh renewal of their spiritual eye.
Matthew does not tell us how the two blind men we hear of in the ninth chapter of his gospel came to be blind but one thing is clear: they know they are blind. They may be walking in the dark, they may be without sight, but they know who Jesus is and come to him in trust and faith. The divine gift of faith keeps us calling out for Jesus, have mercy on us, Son of David!, even in the midst of our own blindness. Their sightlessness is a prelude to fresh vision, but they first have to ask God for it in faith. So too do we come before Jesus in our seasons of darkness and sightlessness, reaching forth our hands in faith for the fresh vision of Christ’s promise.
When we find ourselves in seasons of blindness to God’s presence in our lives, do not despair. In faith, you have named what you know you cannot see: and there God’s prelude to fresh sight is prepared in you. Out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.
Isaiah 29:10 NRSV
Isaiah 29:13–14 NRSV
Isaiah 29: 18 NRSV
Matthew 9:27b NRSV
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